The Lawgiver’s final proclamation
Though the box office returns for Conquest of the Planet of the Apes didn’t break any records, by this time Ape fandom was growing ever larger. Theaters all over the country were hosting Ape marathons, showing all four films in one day. This assured Fox that there was still life in the property, and a final sequel was put into production. Though made even more cheaply than Conquest, the fact that most of Battle for the Planet of the Apes takes place outdoors makes it look like a bigger production.
The year is 2001. The seeds of the ape rebellion led by Caesar (Roddy McDowall) in Los Angeles grew into a full scale revolution after the climax of Conquest. Some time during this Ape/Human War, an itchy finger somewhere pushed the Big Red Button that began a nuclear exchange which wiped out most of human civilization. The surviving apes quickly gained the upper hand, and in the years since, humans found themselves as second class citizens in a society all too easily reminded of the treatment apes received when humans were in charge.
Caesar, who was raised by the kindly human Armando, tries to keep an uneasy peace between the angry gorillas and humans. Seeking freedom for his kind, Caesar’s human friend MacDonald reveals that he’s seen tapes of Caesar’s parents telling how the gorillas would eventually destroy the world. Wishing to see the evidence with his own eyes, Caesar sets out with MacDonald and his trusted orangutan adviser Virgil (Paul Williams) on a mission to look for them in the government archives in San Francisco. Though they find the tapes, and Caesar vows to grant humans more civil rights, they also find that the city is still inhabited by humans suffering from various degrees of radiation exposure.
The humans follow the trio back to Ape City, and make plans to invade. Learning of the invading human force from his scouts, the gorilla General Aldo (Claude Akins) makes plans for his own final solution to the human problem. The various factions eventually collide in the title battle.
Though the film suffers a bit from its reliance on touchy-feely moments and simple characters, there’s a lot to recommend here as well. For one thing, it’s short – at 86 minutes, there’s not a lot of time for the story to drag. For another, there’s the interesting tableau of a mobile apocalyptic army making war. Though the action is relatively restrained, much of this must surely have inspired Mad Max. And finally, there’s the ending, that dares to deviate from preconceived notions about the direction of the series.
Some of the more maudlin material looks to be part of the contribution of newcomers on the Ape writing staff, the team of John and Joyce Corrington. The Corringtons wrote the silly Charleton Heston sci-fi epic The Omega Man and some of the better scripts written for Roger Corman at the time. J. Lee Thompson (Guns of Navaronne) returns for a second time to direct Roddy MacDowall in ape make-up. Said make-up looks more like plastic than ever in this entry, a fact made more apparent by the sharp images available on DVD.
Like the other films in the limited edition “Evolution” box set, Fox has made all the films in the series available on simply gorgeous THX mastered widescreen DVDs. Those that pick up the box set shouldn’t expect the kind of lavish extras on each disc that accompanied Fox’s Alien discs. That kind of deluxe treatment has been relegated to a 2-hour documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes on an extra sixth disc included in the box set. However, in addition to the trailers for all five Apes films, Fox has included an extra trailer promoting the Planet of the Apes video game. And for once, DVD-ROM material is not limited to a lame “web link” page. There’s also a complete self-contained website on the disc that features a timeline of the entire series, video clips from each film, and clips from the Behind documentary.